I wanted to write this blog post yesterday but my yesterday was crowded with so much awesome that I didn’t have time. (More about that later). On Wednesday night, Lee and I got the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with some wonderful people. People we have spoken with many times on twitter but never met in person, plus other people we have never chatted too ever before. To non-twitter people this seems like such an odd notion. Going to the pub with semi and complete strangers. OK, maybe it’s not abnormal for people seeking a date, or something, haha.
Lee and I were late to the Abercrombie pub. Why? Because I was driving and for some reason selected the slowest, most congested route possible. We arrived at the pub over half an hour late. The cool thing was, though, that those already there waited for us to arrive before beginning the provocations. That was so cool. Provocations? Yeah. That’s what we came together for. To share ‘dangerous ideas’. The gathering was planned by education researcher and all-round great human-being, Greg Thompson. You might know him as @effectsofNAPLAN on twitter. Greg and a bunch of other edu academics (including the lovely Nicole Mockler and the very genuine @tloughlan) were in Sydney for the AARE conference and Greg organised #aarefringe as an informal opportunity for academics, teachers and preservice teachers to come together for a chat about education and all of the other crazy stuff that comes with our world.
I don’t know what I want to say about the evening. Seriously. I think (weirdly) that I’m a bit lost for words. Hmmm. I’ve been to quite a few conferences in my time (and a couple of teachmeets) and I have to say that they just pale in comparison to this type of ‘event’. I don’t even think the word event is right. I remember being at the big Sydney TeachMeet earlier this year and watching side-stage as Ewan McIntosh spoke about the origins of teachmeets – the pub meet. It just sounded awesome and I loved the fact that grog was right at the centre of it all. It sounds so wrong, but drinking a cider, a beer or some wine whilst chatting with smart and passionate people about education is what we need more of in Australia. It happens weekly at schools all around the place – the Friday arvo drinks. I think that this conversation – where you can talk backwards and forwards between human beings about an idea, nutting it out, getting passionate, asking questions – isn’t possible on Twitter. What we had on Wednesday night when deeper and was more real. Sometimes 140 characters just doesn’t cut it. Sometimes your voice is lost in a ‘chat’ and your questions go unanswered or your concerns unheard (with loud-mouths like me around, I’m surprised anyone ever gets to say anything!). That may have happened on Wednesday night … I, for one, have to learn how to shut up and listen … but I think everyone there was just so stoked with the conversation whether they were contributing or listening.
Greg did a great thing and I know that there will be more of these grog-assisted edu chats. They need to be in a place like the Abercrombie (well chosen, Tony!) because it is gritty and gungy and darkly lit. The atmosphere of dangerous ideas about education, provocation and honesty was enhanced by the venue. These things can’t happen in the sterility of a school library. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the #aarefringe was teacher PD like Teachmeets are … it wasn’t about learning to use a particular took with your class or a particular pedagogy. So I’m not suggesting that these pubchats replace teachmeets. I also know that often the teachers who attend the TMs go to teacheats and I’m sure their conversation flows more freely their about all sorts of things. But what Greg did was he brought together the different sectors of education and gave us the opportunity to share radical and risky ideas in an environment free of the anxiety that we might tarnish our online relationships or digital footprints by being honest and giving constructive criticism.
I wonder if the messiness of this blog captures the necessary messiness of something like #aarefringe. There was no PPT, or plenary or speaking order. There were drinks, passionate people and one small request: share a dangerous idea about education. If you want to read a more succinct and articulate wrap-up of the evening that references that actual speakers and their topics, read Greg’s post here.
Finally, I just want to say a great big thank you to everyone who was there. Lee and I felt so welcomed and supported whilst we shared what we think are our pretty challenging thoughts about education and academia. We were nervous (just being newbies really) but we loved the conversations about our ideas and it has helped them to evolve further – you should have been in the car on the way home! It was a delight to meet people in the flesh for the first time – especially Greg, Denise and Nicole. The next day both Lee and I got heaps of tweets about our ideas regarding leadership and research … which made us feel proud that our ideas had been dangerous enough to provoke a mini debate/discussion online as well. So awesome.